Keeping Post-Trial HSC Students focused – Revising Language Features

With very few lessons of HSC English Standard timetabled before my students leave school forever, the pressure is on to keep them engaged in meaningful lessons. Many are thinking of their formal, or after exam celebrations. Others are desperate to gain insights that will help improve their marks, yet distractions abound. With this in mind, I planned a few lessons to make revision a little more entertaining.

We began by identifying areas the students felt needed tweaking, and reached consensus on a priority of scheduled lessons. Looking at language features is always a popular revision request so we adapted a card game and followed this with writing in a story circle.

To combine student’s ever-present fear that they do not ‘know’ language techniques, or find it difficult to identify and explain these in an unseen text, I adapted a table from tes (an online teaching resource repository). This three coloured column sheet contained the most basic literary devices with definitions and examples. Working in groups, students were challenged to re-assemble the chart correctly, and to extend the list by nominating features for another group to complete.

Each group was supplied an extract from The Great Gatsby, Sons and Lovers and the opening pages of Mrs Dalloway to support of their existing knowledge. These came from Models of English Style a text that has been lurking in our discarded textbook box and its pages would have ultimately become a blackout poetry.

Subtitled ‘from Old English to the Present’ and published in 1971, it is a gem of interesting literary moments and also includes a pronunciation guide. The sons and Lovers extract is from a section or PURPLE PASSAGES under the heading of ‘Some Functional Varieties of English’, while The Great Gatsby was chosen for the PERSONAL DESCRIPTION section of ‘Literary Modes’. This selection will be an interesting addition to our resources for the new Stage 6 Year 11 English Standard and Advanced ‘Read to Write’ mandatory module which begins in 2018.

To further support their understanding in a following lesson, students were challenged to include a range of language features in their creative writing – another element of the HSC Paper 1 exam.

Story Circle Instructions

My version of a story circle is where everyone contributes to a complete narrative, or the beginnings of a narrative. After each step, the story is passed to the left for a new person to read through then add to each story. Depending on your class, it may work best to have some expectation or shape to the process, or be a free as free writing can be. In this instance, we worked in small groups to choose a genre and discuss typical conventions or tropes.

The instructions were to:

  • begin by writing four sentences to describe a setting. Include a simile and appeal to at least one more sense than sight
  • begin the next paragraph with onomatopoeia and punctuation, then two short sentences of action
  • description of a person and move the action forward through internal monologue
  • description of a bystander – consider a ‘zoom in’ to focus on their emotional response
  • write two lines of emotional dialogue – use truncated sentences, ellipses, perhaps a stammer to imply a specific emotion. Do not use the word ‘said’
  • write a descriptive pause using long sentences and imagery to slow the reading pace – reference a specific time of day
  • create a title for this story

Students also took home a sheet, prepared by a colleague, titled ‘Tips for Showing, not Telling’ from Concrete Details.

*featured image from The Beginning Writer – helping writers learn and grow


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